Blakely: Celtics-Sixers preview


Blakely: Celtics-Sixers preview

BOSTON From their big-time stars to their bench players, the Boston Celtics enter their second round playoff series against Philadelphia a team with lots of concerns - most related to their health.

Ray Allen has a bum right ankle injury and is questionable for Game 1 tonight. Paul Pierce (left knee) says he's good to go, but there's no telling if his sprained MCL injury will become bothersome enough to limit his effectiveness.

There are others, many others, who have health-related issues that make their impact highly questionable going into this second-round series.

Even with uncertain status of some Celtics players, Boston is still the overwhelming favorite against a Philadelphia team that won two of the three regular season matchups.

With the quick turn-around from their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, Celtics coach Doc Rivers makes no secret about how tough it will be for his team to move past the Sixers.

"It's a challenge because of our bodies," Rivers said. "The Sixers are pretty healthy right now; we're not. So that's the challenge."

Rivers usually gives his team the day off in between games, but he made somewhat of an exception following Thursday's series-clinching win over Atlanta.

The team returned to the basketball court Friday afternoon, although Rivers said they would not practice. Instead, they gathered at the practice facility to start their video preparation for the Sixers in addition to installing parts of their defensive game plan.

"Ray is struggling today (physically), Paul is struggling today (physically)," Rivers said. "The advantages we have is we don't have to get in a plane. Our guys can sleep in (their own) bed and get some rest."

Rest is exactly what Pierce can't get enough of right now.

As far as his sprained MCL injury being a factor in Game 1, Pierce was succinct when asked about how he's feeling.

"Good enough to play (tonight)," said Pierce, who added that it won't get better until he gives it a chance to rest when the season is over.

While there's little doubt that Pierce will be in the starting lineup, how effective will he be is another matter.

The sprained MCL injury in his left knee impacts a part of Pierce's game that, frankly, is a huge part of what makes him one of the league's better one-on-one scorers.

"It really doesn't bother me when I walk around or when I jump straight up," Pierce said. "It's more if I turn the knee in a certain position, it sort of re-aggravates it. I don't have a problem getting up and down the court. It's just there are certain parts of the game where you get into the lane, the physicality of the game, to where you're turning the knee. That's why I'm wearing two knee braces just to kind of prevent that. As far moving up and down laterally, that's OK."

Health is always a factor in the playoffs, but is getting more attention than usual because of 1) the fact that this season was shorter because of the lockout, and 2) we have already seen one team (Chicago) eliminated from the playoffs due to being without their best player, Derrick Rose.

The Sixers will not make any apologies - nor should they - for beating the Bulls and advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

They came into the postseason as an eighth seed in part because one of their key players, Spencer Hawes, went down early in the season with an Achilles Tendon injury. While Philadelphia eventually figured out how to win in his absence, his return disrupted the team's flow and the end result was an end-of-the-season swoon that had many wondering if the Sixers could win a game, let alone the series, against a Chicago team even without Rose who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee near the end of Game 1 in the series.

In the Bulls series, the Sixers' confidence seemed to only grow with each victory that moved them one step closer to joining one of the most exclusive clubs in the NBA - eighth-seeded teams to knock off a top-seed.

Philadelphia became just the fifth team to knock off a top-seeded Goliath, the kind of feat that's sure to get the attention of any team - especially the team that you're about to face in the next round of the playoffs.

"They play with a lot of energy; they play together," said Kevin Garnett. "They know who they are. They're a young team, and they're playing with a lot of confidence."

It should be even higher when you consider the success they had over Boston, even if the C's were on the back end of a back-to-back in all three matchups this season.

"I'm a little happier that they beat us in the fashion that they did during the regular season," Allen said. "Beating them 3-0, if we did in the regular season, you come in a little too cocky and arrogant. But since they beat us, the two times out of three, we know this team is capable and they've had our number. We have to really zone in and focus on beating them and taking care of all those things that we didn't do well in playing them."

Celtics won't be broken by Hayward's injury


Celtics won't be broken by Hayward's injury

BOSTON -- These are tough, heart-tugging times for the Boston Celtics, who are less than 24 hours removed from the gruesome left-ankle injury suffered by Gordon Hayward in the first quarter of their 102-99 loss at Cleveland on Tuesday.
Hayward is scheduled to have surgery today, and potentially could be out for the entire season.
As much as their hearts go out to Hayward and his family, the Celtics know they can’t spend too much time sulking. The nature of this business won’t allow them, evident by the fact the C's step back on the floor tonight to host the Milwaukee Bucks.
“You hurt for him,” said coach Brad Stevens. “He’s put in a lot of great work. I thought he had his most comfortable week as far as feeling like he was going to play really well. It’s a tough, tough deal but I guess that’s part of it, the risk of injury. I really feel for him.”
But in the same breath, Stevens is a realist.
He's been in the league long enough to know that grieving for a lost player won’t help that player in the short-term. Or the team, for that matter.


The best way the Celtics can help Hayward is to continue to compete in his absence.
We saw that in last night’s loss to the Cavaliers.
When Hayward was carted off the floor, the Celtics were ahead, 12-9. The lead disappeared and was eventually replaced by an 18-point deficit, only for Boston to chip away and eventually go ahead in the fourth quarter.
But down the stretch, too much LeBron James and Kevin Love would prove to be too much for the Celtics to overcome.
While the loss was disappointing, it gave the team some insight into how to fight on now that one of its main guys will be out for a significant amount of time.
We saw Jaylen Brown emerge from being a second-year pro on the rise into a matchup problem who dropped a career-high 25 points on the Cavs.
And Jayson Tatum reminded us all that he’s a teenager in age only, finishing with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds. The last rookie to tally a double-double for the Celtics in his opening night debut was Larry Bird in 1979, who had an identical 14-point, 10-rebound line.

But Bird didn’t have to play most of that game with one of the then top-three Celtics out for all but the game’s first five minutes.
When it comes to adversity, NBA players don’t have the luxury to pick which ones to handle and which ones to pass on. They either step up to the challenge or be consumed by it.
Under Stevens, Door Number One is the only option under consideration.
And since Stevens has been in Boston, his players have risen to the challenge.
That doesn’t mean they'll win every game, but they've shown the ability to at least be competitive. And in defeat, they'll refuse to use injury as an excuse.
That means younger players like Brown and Tatum will assume a larger role at both ends of the floor if Boston is to make it through these tough times relatively unscathed.
Veterans like Al Horford and Marcus Smart will be leaned upon more heavily to be leaders, both on and off the floor.
And Stevens, considered by many to be one of the better coaches in the NBA, will once again be tasked with making on-the-fly adjustments with his lineup and rotations under less-than-ideal conditions.
Nobody hurts more than Stevens when it comes to Hayward’s injury. Remember, he's known him longer than anyone associated with the Celtics, having recruited Hayward to play for Butler. It was the platform that launched both of their NBA careers.
Which is why the way he approaches not having Hayward is the example for all his players to follow.
Shortly after the loss to the Cavs, Stevens was asked about moving on while handling the emotional dynamics of losing Hayward for an extended period of time.
“We’ll be ready to play [tonight],” Stevens said with a heightened level of seriousness in his voice that spoke to how important it was to him and his players that they came out and performed at their best on Tuesday against Cleveland.

And that's the blueprint required for them going forward if they hope to be successful in handling adversity as it comes their way.


BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Could Gordon Hayward return this season?


BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Could Gordon Hayward return this season?

0:41 - Kyle Draper, Brain Scalabrine, Tommy Heinsohn, and Mike Gorman break down the Celtics loss to the Cavs and Gordon Hayward’s injury.

4:22 - Tom Curran, Michael Holley, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith give their reactions to the gruesome injury to Gordon Hayward and how it impacted the game.

9:39 - Dr. Chris Chihlas joins BST to give his medical opinion on Gordon Hayward and if he thinks there is a chance Hayward could return this season. 

13:40 - Chris Mannix and A. Sherrod Blakely discuss what the feeling was like in the arena when Hayward went down but how there is actually a 'cautious optimism' surrounding the injury.